Thursday, June 16, 2011

The World is like a Moving Electric Train

What is our world like? If I address this question to ten different people, I will get ten different answers. Whenever I have asked this question to myself, my own answers have varied from time to time. When I searched for an answer to this question in the ancient scriptures and classics, I found that the answer to this question has varied from time to time and from place to place. When farming was the primary means of living for most of the people in the world, the world was seen as a huge farm. When there were kingdoms all over the world, the world was seen as a huge empire. In the industrial age, when people invented machines, the world was seen as a humongous machine. Later in the age of networked computers, the world has been seen as a huge network in which everything is connected to everything else. There is something in common with all these metaphors. They unanimously assert that the world is one system with all its parts working together.  
This morning I addressed this question to myself again, and the novelty of the answer that surfaced in my mind surprised me. It also challenged me to radically transform my own life. What is our world like? My answer this morning was this: It is like a moving electric train. I can see raised eyebrows. Let me briefly explain what I mean by this.
A train has several bogies, but they are connected together, and so it can move forward as one vehicle. The world consists of so many different component parts, but they all work together as one system. This idea is very well expressed in the above-mentioned metaphors. But this metaphor of the moving train goes beyond all those metaphors.
The word “moving” is significant here. I have related the world to a moving train, not to a stationary one. Our world is never stationary; it keeps moving. Its existence in space-time is what makes it move. Movement in space-time is expressed as changes in form. Nothing in the world is free from change, and this process seems endless. Did this process begin anytime? We just don’t know.  Human mind cannot conceptualize endlessness. We ourselves are within this moving train, and we cannot go out of this train and look at it objectively. Our mind is conditioned with this movement, and all our thoughts are relative to this movement.
But the movement of this train depends on two stationary things. One is the rails underneath and the other is the electric power line that goes above it. The world also depends on two stationary things. The world, which constantly changes according to space-time, depends upon a set of laws that do not change according to space-time. This set of laws is like the rails on which the train runs. The world cannot function without laws.  The power line above gives a constant supply of energy for the train to keep moving.  Without a constant supply of power, the train cannot move. The world keeps moving in time with all its changes because of a constant power supply. All the energies such as light, heat, electricity, magnetism, gravity, and life are the diverse forms of this power supply. The world cannot keep moving without these energies. Our sciences are our attempts to discover the various laws that govern the world and the various forms of energy that activate the world.
Now we come to the special role of humankind. Being a part of the world we share the same characteristics of the world. We are within space-time limit, and not free from change. So we have birth, growth, decay, and death. Our existence is also governed by laws. The laws applicable to the rest of the world are applicable to us too. We are also sustained by energies like the rest of the world, especially by life energy.
One may wonder if life can be called an energy like the rest of the energies. The truth is that we haven’t found the true nature of life yet. I read somewhere that life may be better called an energy-processing mechanism.  Here I am placing it along with energies because it shares certain characteristics of other energies.  It is the presence of life that makes one alive like the presence of electricity makes a bulb lit. Life appears in various forms of plants and animals like electricity appears in various forms through different kinds of machines.
We know that the continued existence of the world depends upon the laws that govern it and the energies that sustain it. The world that appears to our eyes seems to be the expression of the invisible energies limited and governed by laws. But what lies behind the laws and the energies? Where do the laws and the energies come from? We don’t know. It seems we can never know the answer to this question. Our ignorance does not mean that a Source doesn’t exist. A Source of laws and energies exists, but human mind doesn’t have the ability to conceptualize it. Whatever we think and verbalize can’t be true about this Super Source.  
However, without this piece, the puzzle won’t be complete. Although the Super Source behind the laws and energies remains unknown, we may create a symbol to represent it so that we can complete the puzzle, and have a view of all that exists.  It is like using an x for an unknown variable in an algebraic equation.
Humankind exists in a very special relationship with the Super Source and with the rest of the world. Humankind is similar to the rest of the world in most of the aspects, and it is also similar to the Super Source in certain aspects. This similarity to both the Super Source and to the world places humankind in between them in the role of a link or a mediator. Coming back to the metaphor of an electric train, humankind is like the driver of the train. The driver is a part of the moving train. However, unlike the remaining parts of the train, the driver has the freedom and the responsibility to run the train and make decisions about the train. Humankind is similar to the rest of the world in that it is subject to all the laws that govern the world, and it needs the energies that sustain the rest of the world. However, unlike the rest of the world, it can consciously choose its path. While the rest of the world automatically follows the laws, humankind can choose to obey them or disobey them. Whatever humankind chooses to do, its consequences will be shared by the rest of the world as well. Wise choices will lead to beneficial consequences, and unwise choices will lead to unfortunate consequences. 
Humankind has the responsibility to drive this world in such a way that the world will continue to move on smoothly. This responsibility is entrusted to humankind by the Super Source. In order to do this, humankind needs to know the laws that govern the world, and needs to be aware of the energies that make the world run. Humankind also needs to be very well aware of its own place in the world and the special role it has to play.
What does this picture of the world mean to us as individual human beings?  Each individual is a driver of his own world, and the way he drives it affects his world. The choices he makes can be beneficial or harmful to his world. He needs to drive according to the laws and he is given energies to move on. He is entrusted with the responsibility to drive his world at the best of his knowledge and ability.
The Role of Science and Religion
Science seems to be primarily an extension of our rationality, our left brain, and religion seems to be primarily an extension of our right brain. They are complementary, not contradictory. We need both, not one or the other. They help humankind perform its duty as the driver of the world.
Science explores the laws that govern the world. The Greek word Logos originally stood for the sum total of all the laws and principles that govern the world.  Accordingly the word Biology, made of bios+ logos, would mean the laws that govern the living beings. Science also explores the nature of the various energies that make the world run. However, science limits itself to the observable phenomena, and remains silent about whatever that cannot be observed. Science remains silent about the Super Source behind the laws and energies of the world.  Science can’t say anything about the role and responsibility of humankind as well.
This is where religion comes to our aid. Where science stops, religion begins. Religion does not claim to know what science doesn’t. It merely helps us to live our life meaningfully in spite of our ignorance.  By the word ‘religion’ I mean the true religion, how religion ought to be, not the corrupted forms of religion we see around. Religion helps us create a meaningful worldview and a view of life on which we can build up our life. It helps us create hypotheses, metaphors, and symbols where information is lacking, and facts and evidences are unavailable. Whereas science keeps silent about the Super Source, religion creates a symbol to represent it, so that we can have a picture of all that exists. This picture helps us answer the basic questions of existence, and build up a meaningful life.
Religion deals with beliefs, opinions, hypotheses, metaphors, and symbols unlike science, which deals with facts, theories, and observable phenomena. Therefore it is almost impossible to keep religion from getting corrupted. Whereas science universally stays as a coordinated movement, religious movements keep splitting, which seems unavoidable. It takes sustained, conscious effort to keep the true religious spirit alive and active without getting corrupted. Corrupted religion endangers the existence of humankind. The solution is to strengthen the true religious spirit and fight against the corruption, not to get rid of religion itself. Getting rid of religion is even more dangerous to the existence of humankind because without it we wouldn’t know what we are and why we live.
But how do we identify a corrupted form of religion from an uncorrupted form? A lot of people make a quick and naïve judgment: my own religion is the true and uncorrupted religion, and all the others are corrupted. This view makes a follower of a certain religion look down upon the followers of every other religion. Once we manage to transcend such naivety, we will look for a standard to distinguish between corrupted and uncorrupted forms of religion.  The only standard I can think of is this: a form of religion that stands for the well being of humankind is an uncorrupted form of religion. If anything less than that is the goal of a certain form of religion, it is a corrupted form. We need to ask ourselves if our own form of religion is corrupted or not. This is a call for self-examination.  Let us look for the beams in our own eyes instead of seeking the specks in the eyes of others.
Insights from my own religious tradition
One might wonder how I developed this worldview. Let me explain. I have got the insights to develop this worldview from my own form of religion—the Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This is not to claim that this particular form of religion is an uncorrupted form of religion. Far from it. There have been a lot of corruptions in this form as well. However, if one digs deep enough through the piles of corruption, one can discover an uncorrupted form of religion in the life and work of the fourth century church fathers. This writer lacks the necessary competence to make such an excavation by crossing the linguistic and cultural barriers of this ancient civilization.

Gregory of Nyssa
I heavily depend upon the work of Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios, who excavated precious pearls of wisdom from the fourth century fathers.  His doctoral dissertation, later published as Cosmic Man, is an in-depth study of the thought of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Christian philosopher. In the introduction he sates:
The theme of this book focuses on humanity’s two basic relationships—to the source and ground of its being on the one hand, and to the created world in which the humanity is placed on the other.  P. viii
Mar Gregorios asserts that it is fatal for humanity to ignore these two poles. Equally fatal are both an other-worldly mysticism, that ignores humanity’s existence in history, and a secular humanism, that ignores the ground and source of the cosmos.
Here I have made an attempt to present the worldview of Paulos Mar Gregorios and of Gregory of Nyssa as I understand it in a very simplified form. I have managed to avoid the technical/theological terms as much as possible to make it palatable for the ordinary readers. The purpose of writing this is to encourage others to join me in this study.

I have tried to present a picture of all that exists using the metaphor of a moving electric train. First I explained how the world is related to God. The world experiences this relationship in three different modes: the laws on which it exists (Logos), the energies that keep it alive and active (Spirit), and the Super Source of these two (the Father).   Then I explained how humankind is related to the world. Though it is a part of the world, it shares some characteristics of God. Humankind has the responsibility to stand as a link between God and world, and manage the smooth functioning of the world on behalf of God. 

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